Meeting Facilitators International has provided facilitators for numerous Customer Advisory Board meetings over the past fifteen years. We have facilitated sessions for American Express Meetings & Events, Moen, Sprint Nextel, Eclipse Aviation, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Perkin Elmer, Widex, Cegedim, Sanofi Aventis and others. If you are creating an advisory board and would like help from a professional facilitator we would like to work with you.
Why use a Customer Advisory Board?
Customer Advisory Boards are probably the best way there is to hear what your customers want to tell you. Properly designed they allow you to search for unmet needs and to really understand what your customer wants and how well you are performing against their expectations. They also provide an opportunity for you to involve your customer in designing new solutions and they can provide tremendous feedback on new product development ideas and prototypes. Perhaps above all they are a great way to understand your customers priorities.
Why would a customer want to attend an Advisory Board Meeting?
First off Advisory Boards are not right for every industry. The more important your products are to the success of your customers, the more these customers are going to want to attend. When the product is really important, your customers are going to be willing to invest significant time, effort, and expense to participate. In some cases, such as medical advisory boards, it may be appropriate to pay your customers to attend, but money should never be the sole reason for attending. Finally in situations where your customers are not direct competitors with one another there can be a significant benefit to them from networking and sharing of best practices, both during the session and during social time surrounding the meeting as well. When customer travel is going to be involved you can significantly increase your chances of customers participating by piggybacking onto industry events and conferences.
What do you need to design an Advisory Board Session?
When we are going to facilitate a customer advisory board meeting the two most important questions that we need answers to in order to design the session are:
- What do you want to get from this session?
- What will your customers get from this session?
An effective session can only be designed once these questions have been answered. Once they have been answered a whole range of activities including brainstorming activities, priority ranking tools, debates, and feedback sessions can be deployed.
What pitfalls should be avoided?
As a facilitator of customer advisory board meetings we see a number of common pitfalls that should be avoided.
One important pitfall to avoid is loss of focus. This can also be described as the “while you are at it” syndrome. This is where in designing the session the group allows itself to lose sight of the core purpose of the meeting and wants the facilitator to ask a whole bunch of other questions “while you are at it.” When asked why these questions should be included the response from the group is often “that it would be nice to know. ” The best sessions are tightly focused. For these sessions everybody knows both what you want, and what you are going to do with the results afterwards.
Another common problem that we encounter is clients who want to recruit too large a group. They think that if ten customers is good, then thirty customers is better. The problem is that with only sixty minutes available in an hour and thirty customers in the group, each customer would only get to speak for an average of two minutes every hour. This just isn’t enough time. (Breakout groups and other tools can help alleviate this but the message is the same, it is better to go deep with six or eight customers than it is to frustrate thirty customers. If you really want the feedback from all thirty consider holding multiple sessions.)
The next major pitfall to avoid is the temptation to treat the advisory board as if it were a survey. Clients who do this develop long lists of detailed questions that they want answered. The problem once again is time. With sixty questions in a four hour advisory board with eight participants you would get less than 30 seconds per participant per question. This does not give much opportunity for insight. If there is some detailed information that you need to collect this can be collected either before or after the session using a survey. If it is collected before hand it can be interesting to provide summarized results to the group for their discussion. When designing advisory board sessions we will often work with clients to take a list of several detailed questions and turn them into one open question with a number of follow-up probes that will only be used if they are not addressed as part of the open question. (e.g. What are your main reasons for using a product like X? — if not mentioned probe for the role of safety, convenience, familiarity, etc. as defined by client)
A final pitfall that should be avoided at all costs is succumbing to the temptation to try and sell. Your customers have come to this session because they believed that you wanted to hear what is important to them. Any attempt to sell to them will not be welcome and will likely hurt your relationship with these customers. You can show them all the products and product ideas that you want, and you can ask them what they like about the idea, and what they don’t like, you can even ask them why someone might want to buy something like this, just don’t try and tell them why they should buy it.
Why use a facilitator?
There are several reasons. One of the most important is neutrality. A neutral facilitator is going to make your customers far more comfortable and far more willing to participate and to speak their mind. The facilitator’s position and training is going to help them build trust and openness and perhaps get on the floor issues that would not be surfaced otherwise. This includes not just the bad news, but the good news as well. An experienced facilitator is going to bring a wide range of tools to help make the session productive and is going to know how to both draw people out and to keep the group on track. Finally by freeing yourself of the need to run the meeting and to take notes, you as the client are going to be able to sit back and really listen and observe to truly understand what your customers want you to know. And isn’t that the purpose of the exercise?
If you would like to discuss how we can help you get the most out of your Customer Advisory Board Meeting why not Contact Meeting Facilitators International ? The initial consultation is always free.
From Our Clients
“Over the past five or six years we have worked with Bruce more than a dozen times as a focus group moderator for our pharmaceutical and medical device clients. The clients are always impressed with how quickly Bruce picks up challenging concepts and how easily he communicates them. The high-quality feedback and insight he draws from the focus group participants is what we are all looking for. Bruce’s track record in exceeding client objectives makes me extremely comfortable recommending him to any of our clients regardless of therapeutic area.”
“We wanted to find somebody unbiased, with no agenda, who could lead the retreat and pull in all points of view. Bruce did this and more. He brought some clever ways to make sure that we fully explored our ideas and he forced the discipline of setting priorities and of committing to an action plan. We have now used him three years in a row since everyone sees the value he adds and trusts his process.”
Mary Todd Peterson